Research in Science Education

, Volume 38, Issue 5, pp 565–587 | Cite as

Socio-Scientific Discussions as a Way to Improve the Comprehension of Science and the Understanding of the Interrelation between Species and the Environment

Research Report


This article reports on a qualitative and quantitative study that explored whether a constructivist Science learning environment, in which 9 to 10-year old Colombian girls had the opportunity to discuss scientific concepts and socio-scientific dilemmas in groups, improved their understanding of the concepts and the complex relations that exists between species and the environment. Data were collected from two fourth grade groups in a private bilingual school, a treatment and a comparison group. Pre and post tests on the understanding of scientific concepts and the possible consequences of human action on living things, transcriptions of the discussions of dilemmas, and pre and post tests of empathy showed that students who had the opportunity to discuss socio-scientific dilemmas gave better definitions for scientific concepts and made better connections between them, their lives and Nature than students who did not. It is argued that Science learning should occur in constructivist learning environments and go beyond the construction of scientific concepts, to discussions and decision-making related to the social and moral implications of the application of Science in the real world. It is also argued that this type of pedagogical interventions and research on them should be carried out in different sociocultural contexts to confirm their impact on Science learning in diverse conditions.


Science education Constructivist learning environments Empathy Environmental interconnectedness Scientific concepts Socio-scientific discussions 


  1. Aldridge, J., Fraser, B., & Taylor, P. (2000). Constructivist learning environments in a cross-national study in Taiwan and Australia. International Journal of Science Education, 22(1), 37–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Clarkeburn, H., Downie, R., & Matthew, B. (2002). Impact of an ethics program in a life sciences curriculum. Teaching in Higher Education, 7(1), 65–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davis, M. H. (1996). Empathy: A social psychological approach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  4. Duit, R., & Confrey, J. (1996). Reorganizing the curriculum and teaching to improve learning in science and mathematics. In D. Treagust, R. Duit, & B. Fraser (Eds.), Improving teaching and learning in science and mathematics (pp. 79–93). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  5. Eisenberg, N., & Strayer, J. (1992). Cuestiones fundamentales en el estudio de la empatía (empathy). In N. Eisenberg & J. Strayer (Eds.), La empatía y su desarrollo (development) (pp. 13–24). (I. Aizpurua, Trans.) Bilbao, España: Descleé de Broker S. A. (Original work published in 1987).Google Scholar
  6. Feshbach, N. D. (1978). Studies of empathic behaviour in children. In B. A. Maher (Ed.), Progress in experimental personality research (Vol. 8, pp. 1–47). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  7. Gil-Pérez, D. (1996). New trends in science education. International Journal of Science Education, 18(8), 889–901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hodson, D. (1996). Laboratory work as scientific method: Three decades of confusion and distortion. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 28(2), 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hoffman, M. L. (2002). Desarrollo moral y empatía (empathy). (F. Gonzáles, Trans.). Barcelona, España: Ideas Books. (Original work published in 2000).Google Scholar
  11. Jacobson, M. J., & Spiro, R. J. (1995). Hypertext learning environments, cognitive flexibility, and the transfer of complex knowledge: An empirical investigation. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 12(4), 301–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kohler, W. (1929). Gestalt psychology. New York: Liveright.Google Scholar
  13. Margel, H., Eylon, B., & Scherz, Z. (2001). A longitudinal study of junior high school students’ perceptions of the particulate nature of matter. In N. Valanides (Ed.), Proceedings of the 1st IOSTE Symposium in Southern Europe. Nikosia, Cyprus: Imprinta (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED466372).Google Scholar
  14. Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Millar, R., & Osborne, J. (Eds.) (1998). Beyond 2000: Science education for the future. London: King’s College London.Google Scholar
  16. Ministerio Nacional de Educación. (2004). Estándares Básicos de Competencias en Ciencias Naturales (Natural). Colombia: Publicaciones del MEN.Google Scholar
  17. National Research Council. (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  18. Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  19. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (1998). Instrument design: A framework for assessing scientific literacy. Arnhem, The Netherlands: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).Google Scholar
  20. Perrone, V. (1998). Why do we need a pedagogy of understanding?. In M. Stone-Wiske (Ed.), Teaching for understanding: Linking research with practice (pp. 13–38). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Piaget, J. (1972). Psicología de la inteligencia (intelligence) (J. C. Foix, Trans.). Maza; Buenos Aires: Editorial PSIQUE (Original work published in 1947).Google Scholar
  22. Raven, J. C., Court, J., & Raven, J. (1983). Manual for Raven’s progressive matrices and vocabulary scales. London: H. K. Lewis.Google Scholar
  23. Rennie, L. J., Goodrum, D., & Hackling, M. (2001). Science teaching and learning in Australian schools: Results of a national study. Research in Science Education, 31, 455–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rest, J. R. (1986). DIT: Manual for the defining issues test. Center for the study of ethical development. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  25. Ritchie, S. M. (1998). The teacher’s role in the transformation of students’ understanding. Research in Science Education, 28(2), 169–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sadler, T., & Zeidler, D. (2003, March). Weighing in on genetic engineering and morality: Students reveal their ideas, expectations, and reservations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the national association for research in Science teaching, Philadelphia, USA.Google Scholar
  28. Settelmaier, E. (2003, March). Dilemas with dilemas...Exploring the suitability of dilemma stories as a way of addressing ethical issues in science education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the national association for research in Science teaching, Philadelphia, USA.Google Scholar
  29. Shapiro, S., & Wilk, M. (1965). An analysis of variance test for normality. Biometrika, 52(3), 591–599.Google Scholar
  30. Thompson, J., & Windschitl, M. (2002). Engagement in science learning among academically at-risk girls: Sense of self and motivation to learn across learning contexts. New Orleans, LA: American Education Research Association.Google Scholar
  31. Tirri, K., & Pehkonen, L. (2002). The moral reasoning and scientific argumentation of gifted adolescents. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 13(3), 120–129.Google Scholar
  32. Van Zee, E., & Minstrell, J. (1997). Using questioning to guide student thinking. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6(2), 227–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  34. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Walker, K., Zeidler, D., Simmons, M., & Ackett, W. (2000, April). Multiple views of the nature of science and socio-scientific issues. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans.Google Scholar
  36. Windsor, W. L. (2004). An ecological approach to semiotics. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 34(2), 179–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wispé, L. (1992). Historia del Concepto de Empatía (Empathy). In N. Eisenberg & J. Strayer (Eds.), La empatía y su desarrollo (development) (pp. 27–49). (I. Aizpurua, Trans.) Bilbao, España: Descleé de Broker S. A. (Original work published in 1987).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BogotaColombia

Personalised recommendations